Report to Congress on U.S. Navy Force Structure, Shipbuilding

May 30, 2024 7:24 AM

The following is the May 24, 2024, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The current and future size and composition of the Navy, the annual rate of Navy ship procurement, the prospective affordability of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans, the capacity of the U.S. shipbuilding industry to execute the Navy’s shipbuilding plans, and Navy proposals for retiring existing ships have been oversight matters for the congressional defense committees for many years. Congressional focus on these matters has been heightened over the past decade by the increasing size and capabilities of China’s navy, and by the capacity of China’s shipbuilding industry compared with the capacity of the U.S. shipbuilding industry.

The Navy fell below 300 battle force ships (the types of ships that count toward the quoted size of the Navy) in August 2003 and has generally remained between 270 and 300 battle force ships since then. As of May 20, 2024, the Navy included 296 battle force ships.

In December 2016, the Navy released a force-structure goal that called for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 355 ships of certain types and numbers. The 355-ship goal was made U.S. policy by Section 1025 of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2810/P.L. 115-91 of December 12, 2017). The 355-ship goal predated the Trump and Biden Administrations’ national defense strategies and did not reflect the new, more distributed fleet architecture (i.e., new mix of ships) that the Navy wants to shift toward in coming years.

In June 2023, the Navy sent its preferred new force-level goal to the congressional defense committees. In March 2024, as part of its FY2025 30-year (FY2025-FY2054) shipbuilding plan, the Navy released the details of this new goal, which calls for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 381 manned ships of certain types and numbers, plus 134 large unmanned surface and underwater vehicles. The Biden Administration to date has not explicitly endorsed, as an Administration objective and funding priority, either the 381-ship goal, the earlier 355-ship goal, or any other force-structure goal for the Navy.

The Navy’s proposed FY2025 budget requests $32.4 billion in shipbuilding funding for, among other things, the procurement of six new ships—a figure that is one less than the seven ships that the Navy’s FY2024 budget submission had projected for FY2025, and less than the long-term average of 10 or 11 new manned ships per year that would be need to be achieved over a period of about 35 years to achieve and maintain a fleet of about 355 or 381 manned ships.

The Navy projects that 10 new ships will be delivered to the fleet in FY2025. The Navy’s FY2025 budget proposes retiring 19 existing ships in FY2025, including 10 ships that would be retired before reaching the ends of their expected service lives. As a result, the Navy projects that, under the Navy’s proposed FY2025 budget, the total number of ships in the Navy would decline by a net 9 ships during FY2025, from 296 ships at the start of FY2025 to 287 ships at the end of FY2025. The Navy’s budget submission projects that during the period FY2025-FY2029 (i.e., the years of the FY2025 Future Years Defense Plan [FYDP]), the Navy would include 287, 283, 280, 286, and 291 ships, respectively. Under the Navy’s FY2025 30-year (FY2025-FY2054) shipbuilding plan, the fleet would grow to more than 300 ships in FY2032 and reach a total of more than 381 ships in FY2042.

Oversight issues for Congress for FY2025 include whether to amend U.S. law to make the Navy’s preferred new 381-ship goal U.S. policy; the Biden Administration’s position on a force-level goal for the Navy; significant projected delays in deliveries of several types of Navy ships; industrial base capacity constraints for building Navy ships; inflation in Navy shipbuilding costs; the Navy’s request to procure one Virginia-class submarine rather than two in FY2025; the Navy’s proposal for retiring 19 ships in FY2025; and the estimated procurement costs of certain ships included in the Navy’s FY2025 five-year (FY2025-FY2029) shipbuilding plan.

Download the document here.

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